Here We Are Themes
by Dorothy Parker

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Here We Are Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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In "Here We Are," a pair of young newlyweds are on a train to New York, their honeymoon destination. Whereas other Parker stories assume a certain sexual sophistication among the characters, this man and woman are apparently virgins. They have done the socially appropriate thing by "saving themselves" for marriage, but there is little indication that it will make much difference. Their marriage, like other marriages and relationships in stories by Parker, seems doomed.

Evidence for the couple's virginity can be found in their conversation and behavior. The subject of their honeymoon lovemaking appears fifteen times in the story, only to be met with embarrassment and a failure of language. "Well. How does it feel to be an old married lady?" the young man asks his wife early in the story. Her answer sets the verbal stage for their future conversations on the topic: '"Oh, it's too soon to ask me that,' she said. 'At least—I mean. Well, I mean, goodness, we've only been married about three hours, haven't we?"' The phrase "I mean" becomes their repeated signature phrase for the topic of sex. Given the number of times the subject appears, the sexual act dominates their thoughts, yet they are unable or unwilling to say it. As in "The Waltz" (see separate entry), inner thoughts and outer words diverge.

The phrase "I mean" points to other issues as well. What is the meaning behind marriage? One, and perhaps the most important, traditional answer is procreation, necessitating the sexual act. In a conversation where the speakers are too embarrassed, too polite, or too stifled to name the sex act, "I mean" becomes the equivalent for "sex." Thus, the characters' sense of self-identity or self-meaning is linked strongly to sex, to the act they cannot name directly. To base one's self-meaning on the unspeakable raises questions about the stability of that meaning, as well as of that self. The story also raises but does not answer the question, What is the meaning of "self," of the individual, in marriage?

It is of course ironic that a story concerning sex never offers the word or the act directly, yet there is a symbolic sexual act embedded in the story. The young wife, at the suggestion of her husband, removes her hat, and she later puts it back on as the train approaches their destination. If the hat removal is read as a symbolic disrobing, the period during which the hat is off could constitute a symbolic sexual act. If so, it is a problematic one because it is characterized by petty fights and jealousy. "We won't fight or be nasty or anything. Will we?" she asks her husband before she removes the hat. "You bet your life we won't," he tells her, shortly before another fight begins. As in "The Waltz," the symbols in this story encourage us to read it beyond its level of realism.